There are many ways to set up a hydroponic garden, but out of all the many ways, they all boil down to six fundamental methods. Those six fundamental methods are the Wick System, Deep Water Culture, Ebb and Flow (Flood and Drain), Drip Systems, Nutrient Film Technique, and Aeroponic.
In a hydroponic system, the main setup is the plants grown in the growing medium/tray and below the growing tray is the reservoir where the nutrient solution is. The difference in the systems is the materials used and how the nutrients are taken up by the plants from the reservoir to the grow tray.
The most straightforward hydroponic gardening system is the Wick system. It is a passive hydroponics where the medium is inert. The nutritional solution is taken up with a wick that goes from the reservoir up to the growing medium. A wick is a piece of thread or string. The most commonly used growing mediums are Vermiculite, Perlite, Coconut Fiber, and Pro-Mix.A downside to the wick system is that the nutrient solution gets depleted before the wick can resupply with more nutrients for bigger plants or those plants that need a lot of water.
Out of the active systems, the deep water culture hydroponic system is the simplest one. The plants are planted in a platform made of Styrofoam and the platform is stuck in the reservoir where the roots of the plants are floating in the nutrient solution. There is also an air pump that connects to the air line and pumps oxygen to the air stone, which provides oxygen to the plant’s roots dangling above. Not many plants can grow well in this hydroponic system. One of the plants that does very well in the water culture system is the water loving leaf lettuce.
With the Flood and Drain system or also known as the Ebb and Flow, a submerged pump in the reservoir pumps up the liquid nutrients into the grow tray and then as it overflows the grow tray the extra nutrients is funneled back to the reservoir through the fill tube. So how is the flood and drain system controlled? The flood and drain system is controlled by a timer connected to the pump. It is typically set to go off a few times everyday based on several factors such as the kind of growing medium employed, the humidity, the temperature, plant type and size of the plants. As the timer connected to the pump goes off, it signals to flood the grow tray with nutrients. Then, the next signal to the timer telling it to turn off, it returns the liquid nutrient back to the reservoir. Although the flood and drain system is compatible with many types of growing mediums such as gravel, Perlite, or Grow Rocks, the preferred growth medium are the ones that can hold more water such as coconut fiber, Rockwool, or Vermiculite because this system is also more prone to power , timer and pump failures. If the flood and drain cycle does fail, the plant roots can desiccate really fast, which is why the preferred growth medium is the one that holds more water.